Thursday, October 15, 2009

Spotlight On: Patricia Briggs

Spotlight On week is some of the best times of the month. This month, we're talking to fantasy authors including Rosemary Clement Moore, Dakota Cassidy and Michele Bardsley. I am delighted to cap off a great week with one of my all time favorite authors: Patricia Briggs.

Patty writes the Mercedes Thompson and Alpha and Omega series. I reviewed her most recent release Hunting Ground last month. I have read and re-read and re-read again her Mercy books. In fact, I had to buy a new copy of Moon Called because I made mine fall apart. This interview actually runs pretty long, but I couldn't bring myself to cut any of it.

Did you know from the outset how things would turn out with Sam and Adam? (I heard somewhere that you were asked to add the romantic triangle).

When I agreed to do the series, I was asked to give Mercy a "complicated" love life. The genre was young, and that was one of the common aspects of the genre at the time. The most obvious way to complicate her love life was to introduce two suitors and involve her in the classic love triangle. So, I sketched out a couple of men, and gave both of them some desirable characteristics and figured I'd torment Mercy with them for a while, and eventually one of them would win. It was a good plan, except for two little things.

First, I can't stand women who vacillate between lovers. Love is precious, and hearts are fragile. Any heroine worth her salt knows that, so Mercy needed to make a choice, and behave honorably toward both men. Of course, by throwing her into a couple of life-threatening adventures it's possible to delay such decisions for a while.

The second problem was that as I wrote the early adventures, I came to really like both Samuel and Adam as characters, and the love triangle was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. I needed to end it. The final solution came as a surprise to me, and wasn't as dramatic as some readers had hoped for, but it allows me to continue the story with both of these strong characters. Also, I think Sam deserves a happier ending than cast-off suitor. . .

What is the first element of the character that comes clear to you? (i.e. If you had to describe what you remember about meeting Mercy or Charles or any of your characters for the first time, what would it be?)

I usually start by imagining, in broad strokes, what sort of character I want to play a certain role. Let's say I'm looking for an innkeeper - what comes first to mind? Maybe someone large and cheerful . .

Bang! Spider Robinson's quintessential innkeeper Mike Callahan is sitting behind the bar with a broad smile on his face. But of course, I don't want to steal Spider's creation. So I start mentally tweaking the archetype. Small and taciturn? Nope, too much tweaking. Maybe a little less congenial? OK. I kind of play around until I've got a ghost of a character sketched out. Each time I make a decision, the ghost gets a little more solid. Then I ask the magical questions: Where'd he come from? What's he doing here? If I gave him three wishes, what would he wish for?

By the time I've got those figured out, the character is no longer a ghost; he's real to me. Now I know he really wanted to be a dancer, but damaged his knee. The limp is barely noticeable, but I understand why he sometimes spits in the glasses when nobody's looking, and when he tells patrons to "Follow their dreams" there may be a acerbic edge to his voice. I'll still need to assign eye and hair color, clothing and mannerisms, but that's just adding detail to a character I already know.

Rumors suggest that Sam takes center stage in Silver Borne. can you share any teasers or tidbits about the book and the story?

I mentioned that one of the pitfalls of creating two possible suitors for Mercy was they both needed to be good, solid, nice guys. I've come to really like Sam. However, a werewolf's long life is not without it's drawbacks, the biggest of which is watching everything you love die around you. Sam is in a very dark, painful place. Silver Borne isn't really about Samuel; the central character is still Mercy. However, Samuel can't stay as he is, and this story will encompass some major events in his life. Old wolves may go a little crazy, but they don't stay there. They either tend to choose oblivion, go crazy enough that the pack is forced to eliminate them, or find a reason to embrace life again. The problem is figuring out which way Sam's going to jump.

It really bugs me when authors say they don't control their characters; that the character chose to do this or refused to do that. They're not real people after all. However, once you've given a character enough history and set their personalities in stone, you sometimes find that the character you've created isn't pliable enough to easily bend into doing your bidding. I'm at that point with Samuel. I don't know, for sure, where his story goes. I want a happy ending for him, and I'm pretty sure that true love would solve his problem. I'm not sure that merely dangling a pretty young thing in front of someone as jaded as Sam is going to work. At this point, I'm as interested in the outcome as any of the readers.

As much as I love the main characters in your books, the secondary characters are just as (if not more) provocative at times. Will we see more of Warren's personal story? Or Ben?

Actually, I get letters all the time reminding me that some reader somewhere really wants to hear more about one character or another: the little werewolf girl who was sent to Bran's pack, or the Austrian omega (who is in the Italian pack). It's flattering that people identify with these characters, and want to know more about them. Warren and Kyle are personal favorites of mine, and Ben is evolving into someone very interesting. We'll definitely see a little of all of them is Silver Borne. However, since I'm writing chapter four, I can't give any more details!

I have to admit I love that Mercy is the one woman that Ben seems to really respect and love. Despite their antipathy, Ben accepts Mercy as Adam's mate. Was Mercy joining the pack a planned event or did it catch you as off guard as it did them?

I'm often asked some variant of: "Do you actually plan your books?" Obviously, some authors know exactly where they're taking the series, and others (like me) kind of muddle around without a real clear vision of the future. Actually, I usually have a hazy idea of where I'd like the overall story to move, but the details and the timing aren't clear. I knew that for Mercy and Adam to be mates she'd have to become pack. It's simply too much a part of who and what Adam is for her not to be able to share it. I also knew that given Mercy's issues with control that being part of a pack will be problematical. She's fiercely independent, and the pack is all about being part of something bigger. Adam's smart enough to know that as well, and would normally have been reluctant to ask any more of Mercy. So, I'd planned for this event to take place, but in my hazy crystal ball it was going to happen further in the future.

However, when the fairy goblet and Tim conspired to make Mercy feel worthless and suicidal, I suddenly knew what Adam would do. How do you make someone feel loved and accepted, how do you convince them that they're part of something bigger? How do you anchor them to life? Adam is alpha, and can offer more than milk and cookies. My fuzzy plans for a future formal ceremony got thrown in the circular file. Adam wasn't waiting.

Author to Author

What do you enjoy reading?

When I die I want to be able to write half as well as Lois McMaster Bujold (Vorkorsigan books, of course, but also her fantasy) -- or Jim Butcher (Harry Dresden) -- or Lynn Flewelling (anything she writes). Linda Howard (romance/thrillers) has a wicked sense of humor that sneaks out in odd ways. So many awesome books to read, so little time . . .

Are you a pantser (someone who writes from the seat of your pants) or a plotter (someone who outlines and plots out all the details ahead of time)?

I'd never heard those terms before, but I'm definitely a panster!

Do you ever experience writer's block? If so, how do you cope with it or negate it?

There's an article somewhere on my website about writers block. Personally, I think it's a myth. The writers who hang out at Starbucks wearing a beret, fidget with a pencil, and talk to folks about the angst and suffering an author must endure to create art need to have a reason why they've been on the same novel for five years. Hollywood uses it to add drama to an author's life. I'm busy telling stories and trying to put food on my table. Writer's block is a luxury I can't afford, and I think most professionals will say something similar. Sure, there's days when the writing doesn't come easy. Do you think accountants, plumbers or salesmen don't have tough days? Just like every other working person, you just need to roll up your sleeves and work through it.

The only difference with writing is that sometimes you need to engage the creative part of your mind -- the part that comes out to play; sometimes working means staring out the window and playing with story ideas for a few hours. If the story isn't working, I'll give myself a day or so to just play with things. Quite often I find I made a stupid decision five pages back, and I need to go fix it before I continue writing. However, if a few hours of play-therapy doesn't break things loose, then it's time to sit down at the keyboard and just start writing. Maybe I'll write five pages of dreck, but by hang I'm going to write five pages of something and at the end of the day, I won't be facing a blank screen.

Would you describe a typical working/writing day? What routines or rituals do you observe to get your writing done?

When I come into my office, my laptop gets stuck on the docking station. This ritual is important, because it lets me use the big monitor and comfortable keyboard on my desk (authors need good peripherals!). I turn on heating or air conditioning as needed, and usually turn on some music for the day. I like music, and it helps drown out the traffic noises. I don't have internet access in the office, as it's too much of a distraction. I usually lock the door -- because my little office looks looks like a business and folks are always walking in. If it's hot I'll grab a soda from the fridge, and if it's cold I'll brew a cup of cocoa, and then it's time to work. I'm usually working within ten minutes of opening the door. I write until I'm done for the day, whether that's two hours or ten, then leave the office. For me, it's important that mentally, the office is a place to work, not a spa.

I have candles in the office, and sometimes I'll light one or two. I have lots of good books, and sometimes I'll read for a while to capture a particular mood or feeling. Much like writer's block, I sometimes think authors make far too much of ambiance and setting the stage. It is helpful to have a nice environment to get the creative ideas moving, but it's far too easy to waste time with scented candles and rose-petal baths. My advice for aspiring authors is to come up with whatever rituals you like, as long as you can complete them before you're computer is finished booting.

As a writer, what's the most difficult part of the process for you? The creating? The editing? The submitting?

The synopsis. At some point in an author's career, you quit writing the books and submitting them to editors and start writing "on specification". You write a brief description your next novel and sell that. The synopsis is basically just a book report of your unwritten book. My ideas for novels are fuzzy anyway, and it takes me months to distill a seething cauldron of ideas into a single coherent story. I'm also a novelist. I've never met a story that could be told in less than four hundred pages. I once spent five months writing the synopsis for a novel that I wrote in four months. Remember what I said about writer's block? It doesn't apply to writing a synopsis.

After that, my editor has taken pity on me, for which I will be eternally grateful. Given my utter inability to craft a decent synopsis, and the sheer terror they inspire, my editor lets me get away with murder. Instead of the detailed summary and formal presentation expected of a professional author, I usually get away with some vague arm-waving and a paragraph that says it will be a book, probably urban fantasy, and I promise it will be be good. How my editor gets it past the bean counters will forever remain a mystery.

For the record, I'm also terrible with titles. Like Rachmaninoff, I spend most of my time working on "Untitled Opus X". Fortunately, my editor has shown a remarkable facility with titles. Thank you Anne!

Another portion of this interview ran on Love To Know's Science Fiction channel (where I am site editor) so be sure to check that out too. Learn more about Patricia Briggs at her website. I will also be including her books Cry Wolf and Hunting Ground in our October Trick or Treat giveaway on the 31st!


  1. Hi Heather :)
    WOW - What a fantastic interview with Patricia Briggs! Thank you to Patricia for sharing.
    I loved learning about her and her writing process.
    Did you ask if Patricia Briggs will ever go on Twitter?
    All the best,

  2. Ms Briggs, some of my favorite books are the Mercy books. I enjoyed your interview, until you stated you'd like to write as well as Jim Butcher when you die. I think that your writing is better than his. It's certainly more interesting to me than his books. I have finished all of your books that I've bought (This includes Hob's Bargain) and yet have not been able to get past book three of the Dresdan Files. Your writing flows better for me. Please, Please don't sell yourself short by comparing yourself to Jim Butcher-he's good, but you are better in my opinion.

  3. Thank you for a fantastic interview- love the little tidbits :D Is it March yet?

  4. Great interview..Patricia Briggs is one of my absolute favorites. I still remember the first time I read Moon Called - it was an amazing experience for me.

    Can't wait for March!!!

  5. Great Interview! Thanks for sharing with us!

  6. Great interview! I, too, like Jim Butcher! Looking forward to seeing more of your works!

  7. Enjoyed the interview very much!